CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Two quarterbacks. No playoff berth. That was the rub.
The Broncos wasted another terrific defensive season to develop a first-year starter in Trevor Siemian, and ill-prepared backup Paxton Lynch. After starting the season 7-3, the Broncos lost four of the final six games. Bennie Fowler's dropped overtime pass against Kansas City -- the watershed moment in the slide -- became symbolic of an ineffective offense that experienced a Grapes of Wrath drought over the final month.
A year later, everything is not different. But feels new. The Broncos hired coach Vance Joseph, who has fostered a younger vibe, and he added three former AFC West offensive coordinators to his staff in Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave and Geep Chryst.
Gone is Son of Bum (Wade Phillips) exiting with an expiring contract that was not renewed given the team's desire to keep Joe Woods. He was the air traffic controller of the No Fly Zone. Now, he calls the signals. A lot of new. Was that was needed and necessary for the reboot? It begins on Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. The importance of a revved up start cannot be overstated with four of the first five games at home.
Is this Broncos team a sleeping giant, or an ordinary team with a clumsiness traits that won't be forgiven in the rugged AFC West? Let's take a look at my reasons for Hope:
1) D can be dominant
When viewed through a broad prism, the Broncos defense boasts gnarly stats over the last two seasons, holding teams to a league-best 192.7 yards passing per game, 74.3 passer rating with 94 sacks. However opponents benefited from two flaws, moles on Cindy Crawford's face as they were. The Broncos could not stop the run, allowing 117.8 yards per week. Worse, it worked as a double-pronged weapon because Denver was often trailing. The Broncos defensive allowed points on first drives in nine games, totaling 55 points, second worst in football. That will change. The Broncos will be more aggressive and varied in their looks, creating pressure and more turnovers. Give this group a chance to play with a lead, and look out.
2) The offense can't be worse
Yes, it amounts to damning praise. But the offense should be better from scheme alone. McCoy is creative in passing routes and motion. It should help produce mismatches. And against reason, I believe a third weapon can emerge in the passing game with Jamaal Charles. He is an X-factor in every way. He can play on third down, provide protection and force teams into deciding whether to cover him with a safety or linebacker. The key for Trevor Siemian to improve? The cast around him becomes better.
3) Von Miller is, well, Von Miller
The attention paid to Von Miller is the stuff of legend. He will be double-teamed. He will be chipped. He will be held. But if Shaq Barrett and eventually Shane Ray win their one-on-one matchups on the opposite side, it creates an aveue for Miller to go off. I would also look for Miller to line up in different spots, including the middle to cause havoc.
For a team coming off a 9-7 season, it's fair to wonder if the Broncos did enough. Here, then are the reasons for nope.
1) Offense fizzles again
Siemian is solid, if not pedestrian. He has to show he can take chances and take care of the ball. If the Broncos can run the ball, that would help him tremendously. He was under relentless pressure last season, leading to ugly games -- nothing worse than his performance at Kansas City -- and injuries. Can Siemian show he's more than a journeyman, a guy keeping the seat warm for Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch or the Next Big Thing. He threw well under pressure. He must show a better touch on short passes. If Charles and a tight end don't emerge, the Broncos offense will be a mess.
2) Miller neutralized
An injury to Shane Ray looms large. Same with Shaq Barrett. Ray looked poise for a 15-sack season. If the Broncos don't produce results through scheme or another outside linebacker, Miller's dominance will be measured in pressure not sacks. Um, not good.
3) Schedule swallows Broncos
The Broncos could be better and finish with a worse record. They play four of five on the road down the stretch. What means is if they don't start 3-1 it could get ugly early for this team. It doesn't help there are no easy wins in the division anymore.